Originally Posted by Chris_CA
So if you were to write a book or a song, you would want to stop collecting royalties after only 20 years?
The original concept of copyrights was exactly that - that after collecting for a decent period, the work would fall into the public domain. It was never felt that decendents should benefit financially from a work after the author's death and that even the author should only benefit for a certain time. Why should copyrights be treated differently than patents?
Congress has seen fit to keep extending the copyright time period so that now, for works first published in the U.S. after 2002, it's life of the author + 70 years for works created by individuals and 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever expires first, for works that have corporate authorship. One of the reasons the last extension took place was because of lobbying by Disney because they claimed Mickey Mouse was going to fall into the public domain. Actually, that wasn't true - only the first Mickey Mouse cartoon, Steamboat Willie, was going to fall into the public domain. It's questionable whether if Steamboat Willie fell into the public domain whether that meant that others could create Mickey Mouse cartoons.
One can argue the benefits or disadvantages of this both ways. On one hand, life expectancy has increased, so the 20 years was probably too short by modern standards. Also, the original intention was to increase distribution of the work by placing it in the public domain, but sometimes the opposite happens: since anyone can then publish the work, a given publisher may choose not to publish the work because if it's popular, another publisher can come in and grab the market. As just one small example, the early works of Edgar Rice Burroughs are now in the public domain, but there's only one or two publishers who bother to publish these classics, because if any were to become popular (let's say if there was a new Tarzan movie or TV series), another publisher could jump in and publish the same title and take away the market. This happened in the 1960's when Ballantine published "authorized" versions of Burroughs' works and Ace paperbacks published competing editions of anything that had fallen into the public domain.
It seems to me that perhaps the author (and his/her estate) deserves a long copyright term if they're exploiting the asset and doesn't if they're not. So if a book hasn't been published in X years after the initial copyright period has elapsed, perhaps that work SHOULD fall into the public domain so someone else can exploit it.